The Colorado Avalanche have an exciting young roster ready to make an impact in the NHL. The roster looks very similar to the one that took the ice in Denver last season, but the Avalanche have made a couple of signings to fill a couple of needs.
Greg Zanon and John Mitchell help the Avalanche out in shot blocking, penalty killing and overall defense; and P.A. Parenteau is an excellent complimentary piece on the offense that will help with secondary scoring and on the power play. These few additions should change up the looks of some of the lines for the Avalanche this year.
Understand that I am operating under the assumption that, now that the lockout is over, the Avalanche will quickly move to sign Ryan O’Reilly to a new contract in time for training camp to start, so here we go.
Line 1: Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, P.A. Parenteau.
The question that most people will ask is, “Why on earth would you want to break up Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly?” The answer is very simple, the potential up side of this line makes it so very worth it. Especially since Matt Duchene really hasn’t had any type of consistency on his lines in any of the last couple of seasons, giving him durable linemates that will highlight his abilities is exactly what he needs.
Gabriel Landeskog and P.A. Parenteau will be perfect wingers for Matt Duchene. Duchene is a finesse player who relies on his speed and stick-handling. If he gets more space on the ice, he will be more successful. Landeskog is a power forward that lives around the net and commands the attention of the defense. He will draw double-teams as people try to move him out from in front. Parenteau is a versatile player that is an excellent passer. He can play strong down low and along the boards and has the ability to find open players. That combination will open up more space for Duchene and will allow him to get quite a few open looks at the net. This line could create some gaudy numbers and must be given a chance.
Line 2: David Jones, Paul Stastny, Jamie McGinn
This line was together much of the end of the previous season and it carried the Avalanche for several games. This line is deceptive in their size, strength and skill ability. Each of these players are very strong and have very good hands. Paul Stastny is one of the most underrated players in the league and easily one of the most underrated players on this Avalanche team as he has done absolutely nothing but produce for this team.
David Jones has started to come into his own and, though he struggled with consistency last season, really turned things on late and just seems to play his best hockey when he is on a line with Paul Stastny. Stastny likes having a big winger on his line with his excellent passing ability. Jamie McGinn was one of the biggest surprises of the trade deadline a season ago as he exploded onto the Denver scene, scoring 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in 17 games. I can’t wait to see what this line does throughout the season together.
Line 3: Milan Hejduk, Ryan O’Reilly, Steve Downie
It’s hard to view this as a third line, especially considering the talent that is on this line. Milan Hejduk has a rough season last year, but without the pressure of the captaincy I think we’ll see him tally his usual 20 goals in what could be his last season in the NHL.
Ryan O’Reilly and Steve Downie will make this one of the most feared grinding lines in the NHL. O’Reilly is fantastic with his stick and is a great forechecker. He’s not the fastest skater, but he is capable of outworking anybody on the ice as he is one of the hungriest players out there today. Steve Downie is another player that works hard but also punishes his opponents. Downie also showed flashes of some solid offensive ability until he was injured late in the season.
This isn’t your traditional third line that you put out there to shut down your oppositions top players, this is a third line that can play solidly in their own zone, but also one that will spend a significant amount of time pressuring their opposition in the offensive zone. Don’t think of it as a third line, think of it as line 2-b.
Line 4: Cody McLeod, John Mitchell, Mark Olver
I like this line because it can be summed up in a few words that every hockey team wants. Hard-working and very annoying. Cody McLeod’s entire career has been about hard work and he gives it everything he has no matter how much ice time he gets. Not to mention he is one of the few guys on this roster that is ready, willing and able to drop the gloves with anybody that wants to in the league. He gives his team energy and he is capable of providing some offense in the right situations.
Mark Olver quickly became a fan favorite last season after being called up from Lake Erie. All he did was provide a spark for his team by putting pucks in the net and by running himself into absolutely anybody that he could find wearing an opponent’s jersey. He is a great deal smaller than the average hockey player, but he is afraid of nobody and is one of the most annoying pests on the ice. He suckers people into bad penalties and gives his team opportunities on the power play. He earned his stripes a season ago and belongs on this team.
John Mitchell is a solid defensive center that the Avalanche signed during free agency. He fills the void left by Jay McClement and will also see a lot of time on the penalty kill as well. He may also get some action in shootouts just as he did in a few games with the New York Rangers. Mitchell just seems like a very versatile player that will surprise people with what he is capable of doing.
Erik Johnson came into his own as the top defender that the Avalanche wanted him to be when they traded for him. He’s ready to take his game to another level and be the work horse he needs to be. Jan Hejda started off last season with EJ, and they both struggled as a pair. I think both were adjusting to a lot as they were both still early in their time with the Avalanche. Both settled down later in the year and improved a great deal as the year went on.
I still like the possibility of these two playing together if they are both still in their comfort zones because there is a lot of size and ability there. Plus, Hejda is the kind of stable, stay-at-home style defenseman that EJ needs to fully play his game. I think this time around it will be a better experiment.
Defensive Pairing 2: Shane O’Brien and Ryan O’Byrne
This is a big pairing, which is fantastic, but I think this pairing brings an opportunity for both of these players. Shane O’Brien can be a bit erratic at times, but Ryan O’Byrne is consistent and stays at home, this is a good compliment. Plus, Shane O’Brien might be able to help O’Byrne find a mean side to his game, which would make the 6’5″ tall, 234 pound defender a very frightening prospect to go up against.
Defensive Pairing 3: Ryan Wilson and Greg Zanon
This is an important pairing because you never want your third pairing to be one that you’re afraid to put on the ice, and neither of these two guys are players that would give you that fear. Ryan Wilson has improved every year he has been with the Avalanche and is always just one second away from laying down a gigantic hit and he is such a good puck-mover. Zanon is a veteran player that knows what he needs to do with the puck and is excellent at blocking shots. They won’t be flashy, but they are a pairing that will get the job done.
Goaltending: Starter – Semyon Varlamov, Backup – J.S. Giguere.
No surprise here, Varlamov is the clear starter, but Giguere is perfectly capable of stepping in whenever he needs to. Giguere is a stabilizing force, not just on Varlamov, but on the entire team. He’s a veteran leader that knows what it takes in order to win at the highest level and he wants to inspire this team to get there. This is Varly’s year, though. Varly is ready to take his game and his team to the next level.